Puss by Robert Handy

IS it not a little more than surprising that the common domestic cat, an animal which we are better acquainted with than the dog, should be permitted to grow up with so little instruction? I think so. Almost every dog has some tricks; many dogs have a great number. Yet how rarely do you see a cat of which anything more is expected than that she shall purr when she is petted, play with your ball of yarn, or growl when you give her a nice dinner.

The neighbor's tabby cat asking for food


You teach your dog to bark at the word of command, to roll over, to stand upon his hind feet, and hold up his paws, to jump through a small hoop, to sing, and a thousand other pretty tricks; but why do you neglect your cat? You can teach her all these things,—except to bark,—and quite as easily. Any cat, not more than a year old, can be taught, in less than fifteen days, to “roll over;” and she learns other capers quite as freely. Bear in mind that to do this you have to appeal to the creature’s love of food. That is her nature. She cares nothing  for you; it is the dinner she is after. So, when you desire to teach puss to turn over, take her when she is hungry. Put your hand upon her back, and turn her over; and then give her a small bit of meat. Gradually she will require less and less force. She will understand what you want, and know what must be done in order to be served. Never disappoint her, but let the food immediately follow obedience. Other tricks may be taught in the same way. If you wish to teach her to go through a hoop, you will be obliged at first to take her up bodily, and put her through. But this will not be for a great while. She will soon understand what you desire.

I once had a cat which would open any door in the house. She learned herself! The latch-doors came pretty easy, but the knobs bothered her a good deal. She persevered, however, and became an expert at either.

I have a cat now—a Maltese—which is a marvel of intelligence. There seems to be no end to her interesting feats. She is terribly rough at play; if you impose upon her, you must look out for her claws. She watches for my coming from the city quite regularly; and as soon as I sit down to read, she plants herself in my lap. She had some kittens a few weeks ago. One evening, soon after, as I sat in the rocking-chair, with my newspaper, puss came into the room with one of her kittens in her mouth. She placed it carefully in my lap, and immediately went for the other one.

A neighbor of mine has a cat which rings a bell when she is hungry. The bell is a small one, and hangs about a yard high, so that Miss Puss has to exert herself to reach it.

Another cat I heard of recently seems to have discovered a way to get into the warm kitchen whenever she is accidentally shut out in the cold.

At the side wall of the house there is a small aperture, of about two feet square, opening into the kitchen, and intended for the use and convenience of butchers, bakers, or grocers, who would otherwise have to go round to the back entrance; inside of this aperture is suspended a bell, which Miss Muffy must, no doubt, have often seen used by butchers, bakers, and grocers, to call the attention of cook. She has, therefore, adopted the same plan; and when tired of her prowlings about the garden, or hunting for birds in the adjoining wood, she springs up to the little door, and, with her paw or head, keeps ring, ring, ringing at the bell until the door is opened, and she gets admission.

Muffy is not only a very intelligent little cat, but I can tell you she is also a very good-natured one, too. She submits to being dressed in the doll’s clothes, and will sometimes lie quite still in the cradle for hours together, and when told to stand upon her hind legs and give a kiss, does so with a gracefulness hitherto unknown in the annals of cats.

These funny marks of intelligence in dumb creatures are quite interesting. As you grow older, you will spend many an hour in trying to discover where the dividing line between INSTINCT and REASON is. It is SOMEWHERE. If you hatch some chickens by heat, miles away from any other fowls, the hens will cackle, and the cocks will crow, all the same, although no one has taught them. Why is it?

If you could hatch a robin’s egg in the same way, far removed from other birds, the bird would, when grown, build its nest precisely as other robins do, and of the same material, although it never saw a pattern in the world. Instinct, or, if you prefer, NATURE, teaches all this. But it is not REASON, as you will know as you grow older.

Just exactly so it is the instinct of a dog or a cat to obey you whenever you  require it. Take notice that you can never teach a dumb creature by observation. One cat will never learn to turn over by observing that another one gets its food thereby.

But I will not try to mix you up in this discussion now. You will reach it soon enough if you live. And when you reach it, you will find a very difficult, as well as a very interesting question to solve.